How to sign up

To volunteer, contact Lois Meier at 767-7082 or lmeier@chs-airport.com.

Wearing royal blue vests and clutching clipboards with a large question mark on the back and the words, "How may I help you?" 29 people spend a few hours each week at Charleston International Airport greeting passengers and offering assistance.

They're especially helpful now that the state's busiest airport is all torn up as it undergoes a $189 million overhaul to meet the projected passenger demand over the next few years.

They steer passengers to gates, answer questions about taxi service and help them if a bag goes missing. They do it on their own. They don't get paid, and they enjoy it.

This is National Volunteer Week, a time set aside to recognize those who give of themselves and ask nothing in return.

The airport ambassadors program at Charleston International started March 1, 2011, with just a fistful of volunteers. Since then, it has mushroomed to include retired couples and more than two dozen others, mostly retirees, with a wide array of backgrounds.

Among the jobs they once held or are still working are a nurse, housewife, school teacher, college professor, medical research associate, administrative assistant, legal secretary, telecommunications worker, project engineer, military officer, civic service employee and corporate executive.

The men and women must volunteer at least two hours a week and be knowledgeable of airport operations and the Lowcountry. They put in 1,097 hours in 2012, 1,660 hours in 2013 and so far this year through February, 304 hours.

They work flexible schedules - mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekdays or weekends.

"We're very thankful for any time or day they are willing to volunteer," said Becky Beaman, spokeswoman for the Charleston County Aviation Authority, which owns and operates the airport. "The volunteers provide a friendly face to welcome our passengers."

As retirees, many of them travel by air a good bit and return to share stories of how to improve service such as adding a small stepping stool at sinks in the bathrooms for children to wash their hands or adding menorahs to holiday displays.

"They are extremely valuable as we continue to add airlines, flights and passengers and also during our renovation of the terminal building," Beaman said.

Nancy Wickett, 62, of Mount Pleasant, is a new volunteer. The former Connecticut resident still works from home in telecommunications but felt a need to give back to the community.

"I love Charleston, and I love people," she said. "Welcoming people to Charleston just seems like a perfect fit. Airports are fun, and it's always an interesting place."

Ellen Hoppensteadt, 76, of Ladson, volunteers throughout the Lowcountry at the Food Bank, American Cancer Society and Goodwin Elementary School in North Charleston, and she's no stranger to being an airport volunteer.

For 14 years, the former legal secretary helped out at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as a volunteer. She was at the forefront of the Charleston airport program before it was launched.

Her son once lived in the Charleston area and she bought a house in the area four years ago. At the time, she contacted the airport to see if she could volunteer, but the airport offered no such program then.

When she moved to the area two years ago, she was among the early ambassadors.

"I am a great believer in volunteering," Hoppensteadt said. "I'm a big believer in giving back, especially at the airport. It's the one thing you can do and have a good time and welcome people to Charleston."

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.